Carmen, a gypsy
Don José, a corporal in the military
Micaëla, a young woman in love with José
Escamillo, a bullfighter
ACT I: A Square in Seville
Townspeople and soldiers relax in the sun. As the noon bell rings, girls from the cigarette factory come out to smoke. Carmen airs her philosophy of life—love is a wild bird that cannot be tamed—and tosses a flower to Don José as the work bell rings. Micaëla gives José news of his mother, who has sent him a kiss, which she shyly delivers. A fight involving Carmen breaks out in the factory and Lieutenant Zuniga orders José to arrest her. Carmen is left alone with him, singing to herself about “a certain officer” who has taken her fancy. José lets her escape in exchange for a promised rendezvous and is arrested.
ACT II: Lillas Pastia’s Tavern
Escamillo arrives and is immediately attracted to Carmen. The smugglers Le Dancaïre and Le Remendado try to convince Carmen and her gypsy companions Frasquita and Mercédès to join their next excursion, but Carmen refuses, saying she is in love with José and is awaiting his release from prison. The others depart laughing as José arrives. Carmen sings and dances for him, but when a bugle sounds, he says he must return to the barracks. Carmen mocks him, claiming he doesn’t love her, but he protests, showing her that he has kept the flower she threw at him. Zuniga appears and José attacks him. Now an outlaw, he has no choice but to join Carmen and her gang.
ACT III: The Smugglers’ Hideout
The smugglers celebrate their success, but José is unhappy. Carmen tells their fortunes in the cards, but foresees only death for herself. The smugglers depart, leaving José as a lookout, and Micaëla enters, frightened but determined to find him. She hides when José fires a warning shot at Escamillo, who has come looking for Carmen. The two men start to fight, but are separated by the smugglers. Escamillo invites them all to his next bullfight and departs. El Remendado discovers Micaëla, who begs José to return home to his ailing mother. Carmen dismisses him willingly, but José, convinced she now loves Escamillo, vows to return.
ACT IV: Outside the Bullring
The crowd gathers for the bullfight, hailing Escamillo. He and Carmen declare their love and he enters the arena. José begs Carmen to return to him but she replies that everything is over between them, as the crowd cheers the triumphant Escamillo. When Carmen tries to run past José into the arena, he stabs her to death.